When the Blue Jackets hired John Tortorella on Wednesday, they did so needing a new direction and to jump-start the club on its uphill climb.
“In this situation, I think that’s what we need,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said.
Tortorella is the all-time winningest U.S.-born coach in the history of the NHL. He has been in virtually every situation as a head coach in 12 seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.
“By no means this lets anybody off the hook, including management and players,” Kekalainen added. “We’re all in this together and we've got to dig ourselves out of it one step at a time.”
That first step, according to the new coach, will be getting to know his players and listening to their input before implementing the new systems and style of play. Tortorella joked after Thursday's morning skate in St. Paul that he needed a media guide to help put faces to names.
“I need to have better listening skills, because I just want to know what’s going on here and then act accordingly as we talk as a group,” Tortorella said. “It’s so important that we do it collectively here as a manager group, coaches and players. We need to have some honesty amongst ourselves so we can get on the right road.”
And that road starts quite literally.
After Tortorella’s introductory press conference at Nationwide Arena, he boarded a plane with the team and headed for Minnesota. His first game as head coach was one of four straight on the road, starting with the Wild and ending next Friday in Washington, D.C. against the Capitals.
Beginning this unique new journey on the road is a benefit for Tortorella and the players, who have only one thing to worry about on this trip: hockey.
“It forces you to be together,” Tortorella said of road trips. “I think you’re going to be able to get to know one another a lot quicker. I think we need to really close ranks here as a group and just knock this down, and it comes with a conversation and it comes with actions.
“Being on the road, you have some dinners together, they’re not with their family, so it’s more hockey during that time and that’s important to me because it’s a crash course for me to get to understand some of these guys.”
Although getting to know the coach and his systems will be a process for the players, there’s really no time to stop and soak it all in.
It’s going to be a quick learning curve and, for the players, a crash course in everything Tortorella.
“It’s unique, because you’re going through a little bit of a process with a new coach,” Tortorella said. “Me understanding them, them understanding me, but you also have to find a way to win and I think they’re capable.
“It has to be together. We have to be talking and helping one another through this here, and that’s how you have to go about it and I do think we’ll get this going in the right direction quickly.”